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Student of the Month: Sau Nam

Updated: May 1

Sau Nam is a Ph.D. student in the Study of Religion at University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology Joint Ph.D. Program. She is currently working on her dissertation proposal. She received her B.Th. from Kachin Theological College and Seminary, M.Div. and M.Th. from Myanmar Institute of Theology, and MA (Theological Studies) from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas. Her research interests span post-colonial, decolonial, feminist, liberation, and practical theologies. Born and raised in the ethnic group Kachin family, she is a faculty of Kachin Theological College and Seminary in Myanmar. Her passion and theological commitment seek to advocate for the ordination of women in the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) and gender equality in church and society. While studying in Denver, she voluntarily and actively participates in the ministries of Colorado Kachin Baptist Church, Denver, as a preacher and a Sunday School teacher. 

Q. What is your research about? What led you to your research topic?

My dissertation research examines the theological perspectives of Kachin Baptist missions, specifically their concept of “holistic mission.” Looking at the history of Kachin Christianity brought by the nineteenth century American Baptist missionaries, Kachin Baptists have been Christians for almost 150 years now. Kachin Baptist Convention leaders say that they are doing holistic mission to keep the tradition of American Baptist missionaries. However, I argue that this holistic mission approach perpetuates a patriarchal structure within the church, and it hinders women’s full participation in the church. Further, the holistic mission often fails to address, or benefit women, maintaining their secondary status within the community. My analysis suggests that this model echoes a colonial approach to mission, reinforcing patriarchal norms and the dominance of those in power. KBC’s interpretation of holistic mission primarily focuses on physical and spiritual development of individuals but overlooks critical issues of sexism and injustice within the church. I posit that this colonial mission model falls short in fostering an understanding that women are equal to men and equally valued in the eyes of God.

By integrating feminist and postcolonial theology, I critically examine the theological anthropologies underpinning colonial mission theologies. I advocate for redefining the "holistic mission" to be more inclusive, embracing diversity, affirming equality for all humans, and promoting women's leadership to foster an inclusive church and community. This redefinition is essential for decolonizing the Kachin Baptist Convention’s approach to mission.

Drawing on the works of Letty M Russell and Kwok Pui-lan, I develop a broader understanding of God’s mission, emphasizing justice and care for all people, including the environment. Their insights suggest a mission that is justice-oriented, inclusive, and holistic, potentially reshaping KBC’s exclusive and/or limited missionary view. Additionally, Boyung Lee’s reinterpretation of Confucianism from a post-colonial feminist perspective to dismantle the center-margin framework in church and society helps redefining the biased Myanmar religious and socio-culture concept of phon- commonly understood as glory and/or men’s glory. I incorporate the new interpretation of phon with an inclusive interpretation of Kachin Manau dance to construct an inclusive liberative theology that supports a truly holistic mission. Further, I also engage liberationists, womanists, and women of color scholars’ work by doing historical analysis, hermeneutical analysis, and constructive theological analysis to integrate my theological claims.

In summary, my research challenges the legacy of American Baptist missionaries and colonial manifestations in church mission and invites to engage indigenous epistemologies and practices in constructing a Kachin postcolonial feminist theology of mission. I propose a new understanding of holistic mission that is inclusive, democratic, and rooted in partnership, justice, and liberation. This approach aims to ensure that everyone in the church community, particularly marginalized women, and other oppressed groups, can experience comprehensive salvation and liberation.

Q. How are you identifying your calling? What have you learned from your leadership experiences?

I am called to be a scholar activist. Both of my parents are ministers and involved in the church communities all of their entire life. My mother taught at the seminary where I am currently teaching and served as the director of the women’s department of KBC. And yet, she was never ordained since Kachin Baptist Convention does not allow women’s ordination. My father was ordained as he is a man and a leader in the Kachin Baptist Convention. I have seen and experienced the gender injustice to Kachin women ministers firsthand in my home as my father stood with Kachin church leaders in strong and vocal opposition to women’s ordination. In contrast, my mother stands behind me, as she sees that I am able to say what she is unable to as the wife of a prominent church leader and the ordination of women is traditionally not accepted. Growing up in this environment has shaped my ministry and what I see as my calling profoundly. As a Kachin Baptist woman minister and a theological educator, I have encountered a lot of challenges in my life and ministry. Despite various hardships and barriers in the Kachin society, I have been able to deliver a transforming and liberating message to my Kachin people through several channels.

While studying in the U.S., I am continuously pushing my leaders to consider the ordination of women. I am leading the Pro-Kachin Women Leadership Group through an online platform. While the whole country is resisting the military regime, we, some Kachin women ministers, seek justice in ministry by asking our leaders to treat women minsters as equal to male ministers and to include them in ordained ministry. We organized a signature campaign and submitted a letter to the executive council of KBC with one hundred and fifty-four supported signatures to express our concerns on ordination of women and equal/share ministry in March 2022. After submitting a letter, we held a press conference and let the congregation know our intention of sending the letter.

We also did a photo campaign simultaneously with the slogan/hashtag, “We Support the Ordination of Women in the Kachin Baptist Convention.” Many friends from other ethnic Baptist Conventions and social activists have participated in the photo campaign to show their support and solidarity. Because of the effect of the media, we were attacked by the opponents badly. Although we did not get the result we want immediately, we learned that our letter was discussed at the executive council meeting without any concrete decision. Through the signature campaign, I have learned that the struggle will be long, and we need to give more awareness about equality and just ministry to the public and to have more dialogues with the pastors and KBC leaders.


Q. What has your experience been with PANAAWTM?

In 2019, I first attended PANAAWTM’s annual conference which was held at Columbia Theological Seminary through the invitation of Htoi San Lu and Ban Htang. At that conference, I participated in a mentoring session that offered incredible advice and guidance for how to prepare for a doctoral application. That section and the follow-up virtual mentoring were invaluable and helpful for my application process. I am always thankful to PANAAWTM mentors and friends who introduced me to PANAAWTM. Since 2019, I have attended PANAAWTM’s annual conferences regularly. PANAAWTM gives me confidence, hope, and strength to continue my activism, and wisdom and network to enhance my scholarship by witnessing PANAAWTM women trailblazers and leaders, who has made “a way out of no way,” in the church and academy. I am blessed to have found PANAAWTM. I will be flowing with her as long as it flows.


Q. What bring you hope and joy?

Although I am embracing hopelessness because of political turmoil in Myanmar, injustice in my convention, and around the world, Jesus is my hope and joy. I usually play piano for happiness and relaxation and take a walk for my physical exercise. Apart from my studies, with all my power and capacity, I am raising fund by selling Myanmar food and Myanmar Jewelry to support People Defense Force (Gen. Z) and my ethnic armed group (Kachin Independent Army) who are fighting fearlessly against the dictatorial regime by putting their lives at risks. Doing fundraising activities and presenting scholarly papers at American Academy of Religion’s annual conferences that reflect and bring voices and resilience of Myanmar people and Kachin women and their resistant to injustice are my true hope and joy these days.

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